09 April 2010

March Book Report

I realized earlier today that I had not yet written a post about the books I read last month.  Then as I was sitting here reading e-mail, I thought - "Oh yeah, I should do that."  Finished reading my e-mail, and remembered I wanted to do something else on the computer ... but what?  I was just ready to give up when I happened to glance at the book I'm currently reading, and, well, here you are. 

March was a good month, as far as the books I chose were concerned.  Here's what I thought about them, because I know you care - as well you should ...

Blackwork, by Monica Ferris.  This is another installment in the series featuring Betsy Devonshire, the owner of Crewel World, a needlework store in Excelsior, Minnesota, and local amateur sleuth. In this story, a local resident who has always been a mean drunk is found dead in his rented room, shortly after accusing a local resident, who is a follower of the Wiccan religion, of casting a spell on him to harm him.

As usual, Betsy uncovers some suspicious things about various residents of the small town, and tries her best to find out what has really happened. The usual characters make an appearance here, having moved on in pretty logical ways in their lives, like most people do, whether they realize it or not.

I know a lot of people pooh-pooh these books and others like them, but I always enjoy them. For me, they are entertaining and interesting, and more often than not, they are the perfect thing to sit down and enjoy reading.

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, by Kate Braestrup.  I had wanted to read Kate Braestrup's earlier book, "Here If You Need Me," after seeing her interviewed on several TV shows shortly after it was published. But, being me, I never thought of looking for it when I went to the library or bookstore.

So when I saw this book at the library, I decided to give it a go. This is Braestrup's stories and musings not just about marriage, but about what love is - all types of love, not just married or romantic love. It's a series of vignettes, where each begins with a domestic or work scene from her life, followed by her thoughts about it.

I enjoyed this book, because though Braestrup is an ordained minister, it is neither preachy nor religious in the sense that she is saying that everyone needs to have an active relationship with God. Rather, she thinks it's important for people to realize the value of love of any type, and try to make it the center of their lives. If they choose to call that faith, all the better.

I liked her idea that marriage is an act of optimism. She says (and I agree) that very few people get married thinking, "Oh well, I can get divorced if this sucks," and rather that they are making an optimistic commitment for the rest of their lives. Pointing out that it's easy to love someone when you first meet them and fall in love, she then opines that a truer love is when you still love that person and want them to be happy years later, when they annoy you, disappoint you, etc. (She says this much better than I do, by the way!)

This is a book that is completely approachable, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but very readable. Whether you read it all at once or in snippets when you can (I read it during my lunch hours), I think it can make you think about those important to you and the world around you. And about how well you do at loving.

I recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of book. I think it's a good example of a helpful book that is not in the self-help category.

Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline.  Another Lisa Scottoline book that I enjoyed, so what else is new?

The story opens when Ellen Gleeson, a journalist with a Philadelphia newspaper, arrives home one evening and in the mail finds one of those flyers for missing children. The thing is, the child in the picture looks *exactly* like her adopted son, Will. She chalks it up to coincidence, knowing that her adoption of Will as a baby was done legally and above board. But it stays in the back of her mind anyway.

She decides that she will do some research into the missing child and the circumstances that led to his disappearance. Being a journalist as well as a mother who is worried about her son, she delves into her research and the lives of those who are involved. This is happening at the same time that she fears for the loss of her job at the paper due to budget cuts.

Without going into any further details, I can tell you that the story becomes tense and somewhat convoluted, with a few unexpected twists. Reading it does make you ask yourself what you would do if you found yourself in Ellen's shoes.

This was an enjoyable read. I like Lisa Scottline's books featuring Mary DiNunzio more, since she is a character I feel that I know better. But I have to say that of the books by Lisa Scottoline I have read, none have been a disappointment.

The Other Family, by Joanna Trollope.  Until last year, I had never read any books by Joanna Trollope, though I had heard of her. I found those books I did read to be interesting, and worth the time. When my husband brought home the Advanced Reader's Edition of this one, I decided to give it a go.

When the book opens, the family of Richie Rossiter - a well-known composer and pianist, and a teen favorite of an earlier time - has just died, and his family has just received the news. Chrissie, his wife, and his three daughters are numb and stunned to even try to believe that Richie is gone and won't be coming back. Chrissie, who is much younger than Richie, had been his manager as well as his partner, and he had been the center of all of their lives.

At the reading of his will, we learn that he has, in fact, provided for his family. Both of them. Yes, Richie had a wife and grown son who lived in the North (Newcastle to be exact), and he leaves them his treasured piano and the rights to the first 25 years of his music. Chrissie is thrown for a loop, even though she realized that she was on thin ice, not being legally married to Richie. His daughters by her are shocked, especially the youngest, Amy, who had no inkling of this situation. Richie's first wife, Margaret, and his grown son, Scott, are thrown for a loop, as Richie had never indicated before that he even remembered that they existed.

This book is an interesting look at family dynamics in the face of an unexpected death followed by surprising revelations. I thought it was well-written, and though I sometimes wished that Chrissie and her two older daughters would just grow up, their confusion and reluctance to move forward were understandable. The reaction - and actions - of the youngest daughter, Amy, were both shocking and revealing of her character, as opposed to those of her siblings. Margaret and Scott are not quite as fully developed, but you can appreciate their lives together after Richie walked out.

Richie, though not a character per se, comes across as one of those people who is kind of a sleaze, but charming and talented, so others make allowances for him. I really wanted to dig him up and beat the crap out of him!

I enjoyed this book. It's not great literature, but it's not just a simple, melodramatic story either. The characters seem real, and by the end of the book, you have the sense that things will work out, even if not the way each character had originally planned.

March turned out to be a month where I mostly read books from the library, but The Other Family is up for grabs.  Let me know if you are interested by the end of the day on Monday, April 12.  As usual, if more than one person is interested, I'll pick a name at random. 


Anonymous said...

Why not.

Channon said...

I believe I am! It sounds interesting.

And as for the "fluff" reading... I came to grips just yesterday with the fact that this literary snob needs fluff in her life. Right now, it's about all I care to read for some strange reason, but I figure with what I've read in the first 40 years, I can read light fluff from here on out and still be well-read. But I'm betting this too shall pass, and I'll reach for some non-fiction or a literary classic soon enough.

teabird said...

I'm also a fan of series mysteries - the China Bayles series, for example - they're comfortable because you know the characters and enjoy the theme, and you are interested in the crime as a by-product, really.

Blackwork sounds good - it's going on my Amazon list!

Marie said...

Bridget -- I'm not putting my name in for the book, but I did want to tell you I just finished East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, which you sent me some time last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks.

knitseashore said...

I've not read Joanna Trollope, but that story sounds so interesting! We just watched an episode of Inspector Lynley last night that had a similar plot. The poor second wife was totally blindsided.